Holding swords they run around barefoot for days ahead of the Yaum-e-Ashura, to commemorate the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson at the battle of Karbala.
The Paigis had played vital role in driving the British forces out of Kanpur during the freedom struggle of 1857. Dressed in green and black, these youths don’t take rest or lie down in this period, not even going to their homes.
Nearly 25,000 Paigis led by their local Khalifas keep running for three days until Ashura. The Khalifa of Paigis, Mohammad Idris Pahalwan had a meeting with Shahar Qazi on First of Muharram (1857) and it was decided to extend support to Nana Sahib, Azimullah and Tatya Tope at a time when the English forces led by Colonel Stewart were involved in large-scale killings of Indians.
It is believed that the Paigis (from the word Paigham ie message) had taken part in the battle of Karbala and recovered the missing bodies from the battlefield.
For centuries the Paigis in Kanpur continue this tradition. During the first freedom movement, the droves of Paigis and the echo of the bells sent shiver down the spines of British forces.
Undaunted by the strength of the opposition they walked with Imam Zamin on their arm, sword in hand. Vande Mataram Sangharsh Samiti president Alok Mahrotra says that the British were so scared of Paigis that the army had ran out of the Parade ground during Muharram and later left the City.
“Sufi Saint Dass Baba had asked Begum Hazrat Mahal and Azizan to distribute the ‘roti ka tabarruk’ after Majlis. “Nainavati would distribute this ‘tabarruk’ and it created a strong sense of nationalism and communal harmony in Kanpur”, he says.
Centuries have elapsed but this tradition has survived. The Paigis consider themselves as Qasid-e-Husain, the messenger of Imam Husain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad.
(A website claims the figure of Paigis who run to be over 50,000)